Ruminations on the Digital Realm

Jan Stedehouder

PCLinuxOS Day 5 – Alternative graphical work environments

One of the nicer things about *nix systems is that even your graphical work environment, the GUI, is a matter of choice. True, you can change the look and feel of your Windows desktop (Bricopacks, thank you), but that’s about it. I think it’s safe to say that under Linux you can choose between three major desktop environments (KDE, GNOME and Xfce) with Enlightenment rapidly rising in popularity and a ton of other possibilities like Fluxbox, Blackbox etc. etc. Or you can decide for forego on the graphical stuff and stick to the commandline, but that’s for another series.

In this article I will explore how easy it is to add both GNOME and Xfce to PCLinuxOS.

What is available in the repository?

The section Graphical desktop mentions various options to add graphical work environments. There are entries for GNOME, Xfce, Icewm, Openbox, Windowmaker, Metisse and “other”. The latter entry contains the Fluxbox and Afterstep environments. Strange enough you will also find the package to install Openbox there and not under Graphical desktop/Openbox.

To install GNOME you need to select the package GNOME-panel. The GNOME-desktop package was already installed, possibly due to the GNOME-based software I selected for a previous article. For both Xfce and Metisse the repository contains a metapackage: task-xfce and task-metisse.

I decided to install whatever I found in the repository, just to see how easy it would be and whether it would actually deliver functional desktops.

Easy does it

The installation finished without any problems. To use one of the new desktops you have to log off, select one under “Sessions” and log in again.

The GNOME desktop looks very nice and has the PCLinuxOS theme. Good, because the vanilla GNOME theme is a bit of a shocker. That’s one thing you will notice in the other desktops as well.


Xfce is a lighter desktop and though PCLinuxOS is already quite responsive you do notice a difference when launching applications. The desktop is somewhat cluttered and doesn’t take into account what is already on the default PCLinuxOS desktop. Hence, two folders Home, Trash and File System/My Computer.


Afterstep, Windowmaker, Fluxbox and IceWM are more minimalistic desktops. The Afterstep desktop was a pleasant surprise with a different look and feel than the other desktops. I might spend some more hours using it and ironing out some glitches, but it’s a good alternative.


Fluxbox was a bit of a disappointment. Where all other environments gave immediate access to all applications, most of those applications were not in the Fluxbox menu.

IceWM and Windowmaker are very similar in their look and feel. Minimalistic yes, but pleasant enough to work with.


Choice is a good thing

Later in this series I will try out the specific PCLinuxOS remasters that use alternative graphical environments. But it is good to see that the default distributions has more than a token support for the alternatives. I believe new users would do well to try out and work with various graphical interfaces and learn that the GUI isn’t the operating system. That is one element of being re-educated away from the Windows-based experience.


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3 thoughts on “PCLinuxOS Day 5 – Alternative graphical work environments

  1. Ouch, Xfce was ugly… Is that 4.2?

    Anyway, I’ve just installed Fluxbox, Enlightenment and Afterstep on my system, it was about time I gave them (another, in the case of Fluxbox and Enlightenment) try 😉

  2. Richard Chapman on said:

    I’m really curious as to what the post-Microsoft world will look like. My spidie sense is telling me it won’t be just another monoculture with Gnome on Ubuntu being the culture. After all, the baby boomers totally rejected the cookie cutter houses being built in Levitown. Why should we except desktops that all look mostly the same? I think once people accept the idea that maybe, just maybe, it’s ok to change the bliss wallpaper, they’ll be able to accept the idea of a different window manager.

  3. @ Richard
    I can only agree with what you are writing and I believe it is our responsibilty to educate new Linux users in this principle. The graphical interface is simply that, an interface and one of many.

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